Herbs in the Physalis species belonging to the Solanaceae family are both annual as well as perennial and bear spherical fruits each of which is surrounded by a case resembling a bladder. When the fruit ripens, this bladder-like husk becomes papery or wispy. Although more that 70 species of herbs belong to the Solanaceae family, only a handful of them actually have any economic worth. The strawberry tomato, ground cherry or husk tomato is one such species that is cultivated for its small yellow colored fruits that are made use of while preparing sauces, pies and preservatives. This variety of plant was highly popular among the earlier generations, but people selling seeds continue to market them. Another fruit of the same species that bears bigger and better quality fruits and has become extensively popular is the cape gooseberry, P. Peruviana L.
This flowery and herbaceous (soft-wooded) plant is perennial and normally reaches a height of two to three feet. However, at times, they grow even higher and may attain a height of around six feet or 1.8 meters. The branches of this herb are ribbed, mostly having a purplish hue and spread over a large area. The leaves of cape gooseberry grow opposite to one another on the branches, are velvety, have a heart shape, are pointed and are haphazardly-toothed. The leaves of this perennial herb are two and 3/8 inches to 6 inches in length and 1.5 inches to four inches in width. The bell-shaped, nodding flowers of the herb blossom at the leaf axils that are around 3/ 4 inch wide. The flowers are yellowish in color with five deep purplish-brown spots in the throat and are cupped by a purple-green husk that is much bigger than the fruit it enfolds. The fruit or berry of the herb is ball-shaped and 1/2 to 3/ 4 inches in diameter having a soft, lustrous and orange-yellow exterior. The pulp of the berry is juicy and contains tiny seeds that are yellowish in color. The fully ripened fruits have a sweet flavor with a pleasant savor something similar to the grapes. The husk or coating of the fruit is bitter to taste and is not edible.
The calyx of the herb inflates after the deflowering giving rise to a husk that is straw colored and many times larger compared to the fruit it enfolds. It takes around 70 to 80 days for the husk to mature or the fruit to ripen. In effect, the cape gooseberry fruit is a berry having a smooth, wax-like and orange-yellow membrane, while the luscious pulp of the berry encloses copious tiny seeds that have a yellowish hue. As soon as the fruits of the plant ripen, they begin to fall on the ground where they continue to mature and transform their color from yellow to golden-yellow - an indication that they have ripened completely. Many people consider the unripe or raw cape gooseberry fruit to be poisonous and believe that if consumed, it may result in serious adverse effects. However, this aspect of the fruit is yet to be ascertained. The cape gooseberry plants pollinate by themselves. In other words, these plants are self-pollinating and their pollination may be augmented by gently wobbling the flowering stems or by using a light water spray on the plants.
The cape gooseberry was first adopted in the Cape of Good Hope on the Atlantic coast on the southern tip of South Africa and this gave the plant its name. Soon after this, the plant was transported to Australia where it got its frequently used English name. In fact, the cape gooseberry was among the few fruits planted by the first settlers in New South Wales of the island continent. People in New South Wales have cultivated the plant since long and also naturalized it. Gradually, the cape gooseberry was adopted in other Australian provinces such as Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia and even Northern Tasmania where it is now cultivated extensively. Later, the government agencies in New Zealand too adopted the cape gooseberry and promoted the plant actively for its augmented use in culinary.
Presently, the cape gooseberry is also cultivated in countries like India, China and Malaya, but on a lesser scale compared to Australia. Cultivators in India often grow the plant along with vegetables. Over the years, the cape gooseberry has also been naturalized on the Luzon island in Philippines. Before 1825, the seeds of the plant were also carried to Hawaii where cape gooseberry has eventually been naturalized on all the islands. Although the plant was extensively cultivated all over Hawaii at one time, following 1966, commercial cultivation of cape gooseberry has virtually disappeared from the islands there. As a result of this, the processors had to purchase the cape gooseberries at exorbitant prices from people who still grew the plant in their backyards. In the South Sea Islands, the cape gooseberry plants grow extensively as an interesting weed, but the people there have never cultivated the plant with any seriousness. In Israel, the first seeds of cape gooseberry were sowed in the year 1933 and the plants developed well and thrived in cultivation. Soon, the plant began to spread to larger areas, but the fruits of the plant did not fascinate the consumers in the country. Marketers tried to promote the sale and consumption of fresh as well as preserved cape gooseberries in Israel, but all their endeavors proved futile.
Cultivating cape gooseberry requires plenty of planning and since the plant is grown in different parts of the world, it is important to decide on the time to plant this herb in individual regions depending on the climatic conditions prevailing there. For instance, it is advisable to plant cape gooseberry in India any time between March and May, while in Hong Kong, it is best to plant the seedbeds during September-October and again during March-April. It may be mentioned here that when the first seeds of cape gooseberry were planted in Bahamas in the latter part of the summer of 1952, they developed into healthy plants and provided a yield of fruits continuously for three months during the subsequent winter months. Cultivators in Bahamas obtained additional seeds from England and sowed them in April 1953. These seeds began to flourish during the middle of July and continued to bear flowers and fruits from September onwards. The plant yielded a good crop of berries, but there were none left on the plants to mature during the cold winter months. Next, the cultivators planted the seeds in the next November and after a lapse of around 13 weeks, the first fruits began to ripen. By the middle of May in the following year, the cultivators harvested a very good crop of berries. It was interesting to find that the plants were still flourishing till the latter part of June and flowering abundantly, but they bore very few fruits and these too failed to mature. The scenario remained unchanged till September, by when some more vigorous plants had grown enough laterally and attained the height of six feet.
When the cape gooseberry seeds were planted for the first time in Jamaica in January 1954, the plants initially displayed very poor growth till June, but soon their growth picked up pace. By the time it was middle of August, the cape gooseberry plants had attained the height of 15 inches. The lateral growth of the plants was remarkable and they also began bearing flowers and fruits by this time. It has been observed that the intense heat during the summer months is not suitable for the growth of the fruits and, hence, it is best to plant the cape gooseberry during the fall months. This will not only enable the fruits to set on the plants when the weather is relatively much cooler and also harvest the berries during the spring or early summer months. The growing pattern of cape gooseberry is somewhat different in California. The plants usually do not bear a heavy crop of fruits till they are in the second year of their existence or unless they are initially grown in greenhouses.
Although most cape gooseberry cultivators plant the seeds afresh every season with a view to obtain a hefty harvest, there are some others who keep the same plant growing for as many as four years. What they actually do is crop the plant after each harvesting and allow it to resume growth. Although this process saves much time compared to growing the plants from seeds, these plants are usually found to be vulnerable to insects and diseases and even they do not yield a great quantity of berries or fruits of excellent quality.
Cape gooseberries are usually canned as whole fruits or conserved in the form of jam. Apart from this, people use cape gooseberries to prepare sauces, use them in pies, chutneys, puddings, ice creams and also consume them fresh by incorporating the berries in fruit salads and fruit cocktails. People in Colombia stew or cook cape gooseberries with honey and consume them as dessert. On the other hand, the British have also found a use of the husk, which they use as a handle to dip the cape gooseberry fruits in icing. It is interesting to note that during the 18th century, the native women in Peru perfumed the cape gooseberry fruits and often used them for ornamentation. It may be mentioned here that the fully-grown or ripened cape gooseberries are believed to be rich in vitamin P content and also enclose significant quantity of pectin.
Therapeutic use of cape gooseberry: The leaves of the cape gooseberry are said to possess therapeutic value and are used in different places to cure different ailments. Herbal medical practitioners in Colombia recommend the use of a decoction prepared with the leaves of the cape gooseberry plant as a diuretic as well as an anti-asthmatic. Again, people in South Africa heat the plant's leaves and apply them as a poultice on inflamed areas of the skin. The native Zulu tribe in Africa uses an infusion prepared with the cape gooseberry leaves as an enema (a procedure used to clean the bowel of feces by injecting a liquid through the anus) to alleviate abdominal disorders in children.
A native to Brazil, the cape gooseberry had been neutralized in the hilly regions of Chile and Peru and has, since then, become recognized with this Latin American region. While this herb was first grown in England way back in 1774, immigrants who settled in the Cape of Good Hope in the southern most tip and Atlantic coast of South Africa cultivated the cape gooseberry even before 1807. Soon after the cape gooseberry was introduced in the Cape of Good Hope, it was transported to Australia where the plant rapidly multiplied in their natural habitat. The seeds of the plant were carried to Hawaii some time before 1825 and since then the cape gooseberry has been naturalized in all the islands of the nation - at places on medium altitudes and mostly in to some extent hilly areas. Although the cape gooseberry has been cultivated in different regions of almost all continents, it had never been appreciated in the United States until recently. People inhabiting the continental United States have begun to somewhat pay attention to the cape gooseberry fruit.
The cultivation of the cape gooseberry differs according to the climatic conditions. While the plant is an annual in the regions having a temperate climate, it is grown perennially in the tropical regions. The cape gooseberry grows in the wild at altitudes ranging between about 2,500 feet and 10,000 feet in the Andean regions of South America, while in Hawaii the plant grows in the wild at altitudes between 1,000 feet and 8,000 feet. The plants are vulnerable to frost and are destroyed at temperatures around 30°F. Although the cape gooseberry is cultivated as an annual plant in most parts of California, in some areas in frost-free southern California cultivators allow the plants to continue growing for quite a number of years. It is interesting to note that many cultivators have adopted a unique measure to get the maximum growing season of the cape gooseberry. They have grown the seedlings under glass during fall and winter and transplant them in the ground in the beginning of spring in order to avail the advantage of the best ever possible growing period of the plant. Although the cape gooseberry grows in the wild in many regions, the plant can also be grown in containers or pots and it also easily becomes accustomed to the greenhouse way of life.
It has been found that the cape gooseberry plant has the potential to blossom even on disregard. Therefore, it is not surprising that adding fertilizers even in modest amounts in the cultivation of cape gooseberry invigorates the growth of the plant, but usually discourages the flowering potential of the plant. If you desire to obtain a hefty harvest from the cape gooseberry, you should use little or no fertilizer while cultivating the plant. In fact, the plant requires very little trimming, if not, the plant is being prepared to grow on a trellis or latticework. In case you squeeze the developing shoots of cape gooseberry, it will result in more dense and undersized plants.
The cape gooseberry plants are extremely sensitive to frost and are killed at temperatures around 30°F, they essentially require adequate protection from it to thrive well. For instance, if you are cultivating the plant in regions affected by frost, it is essential that you provide some overhead cover to the plants or grow them adjacent to any wall or building to provide them enough shelter from frost. During the initial stages of growth, the individual cape gooseberry plants are small enough to be covered by putting plastic sheets on a frame built over them to protect the saplings from cold and frost. While the plastic sheet covering are able to offer some extent of protection even to the larger plants, cape gooseberry plants grown in pots or containers may be shifted to frost-free areas during the cold weather.
As mentioned earlier, the cape gooseberry plants are self-propagating and are usually grown from seeds. The seeds require a high level of humidity for healthy germination. Alternatively, the cape gooseberry plants may also be propagated from one year old stem cuttings after they are treated with a rooting hormone. Plants grown through the stem cutting method bear flowers quite early and also yield a good harvest, but they do not grow as vigorously as the cape gooseberry plants grown from the seeds.
It may be noted that the cape gooseberry plants and fruits are susceptible to quite a few infections/ diseases, including powdery mildew and Alternaria spp. The cape gooseberries are also inclined to root rotting and viruses when they are cultivated on inadequately drained soil. A number of insects and bugs also invade the plants affecting their growth as well as fruit yield. These insects and bugs include stem borer, cutworm, fruit moth, leaf borer, flea beetle, striped cucumber beetle and Colorado potato beetle. On the other hand, cape gooseberry plants grown in greenhouses are also attacked by bugs like aphids and white fly. Even the stored fruits of the cape gooseberry is susceptible to attack by Botrytis molds and Penicillium leading to the decay of the fruits.
In South Africa, there are a number of insects and bugs that especially attack the different parts of the cape gooseberry plant. While the cutworms that attack the seeds are the most significant among all these insects and bugs, the red spider bothers the plants after they have been transplanted in the fields. In the event of cape gooseberry being cultivated in the neighborhood of potato fields, it is likely that the plants will be attacked by the potato tuber moth. In addition, hares too harm the little plants, while birds (francolins) consume the fruits unless special attention is paid to keep them away. In India, mites are a great threat to cape gooseberry cultivation as they are likely to cause defoliation or cause the plants to lose their leaves. On the other hand, cape gooseberry cultivators in Jamaica were surprised to find that the leaves of the plants were suddenly pierced apparently by flea beetles belonging to the Chrysomelidae family. In Bahamas, the cultivators need to exercise addition care to prevent the white fly attacking the very young plants and also to save the flowering plants from the attacks of flea beetles.
Talking about the diseases that affect the cape gooseberry plants, it needs to be mentioned that the most worrying disease that damage the plants in South Africa include the powdery mildew and soft brown scale. The plants are also susceptible to root rotting and viruses if they are cultivated in an inadequately drained soil or if the plants are allowed to continue to grow for the second consecutive year. As a result most farmers cultivating the cape gooseberry prefer to grow the plants biennially. In Queensland, the plants are attacked by bacterial leaf spot damaging the leaves of the cape gooseberry.
The cape gooseberry plants prefer and thrive well in sun-drenched, frost-free conditions where there is ample protection from strong winds. The plant grows best when planted beside a south-facing wall or in a courtyard. Cape gooseberry plants require lots of rain all through their growing season and very scanty rain when the fruits are in the process of ripening.
While the plants will grow on any properly drained soil, they thrive best on sandy or rough soil. When the cape gooseberry is cultivated on a very luxuriant alluvial soil, the plants have abundance of vegetative growth, but the fruits do not obtain their right color. In fact, if you want to obtain a very good crop of cape gooseberry, ensure that you grow the plants on a relatively inferior sandy soil that has an adequate drainage system. In places where drainage is a problem the plants should be grown on moderate slopes or the rows of the plants may be on a slightly higher altitude compared to the surroundings. During droughts, the cape gooseberry plants cease to maintain growth and virtually becomes dormant. Irrigation is essential during the dry seasons to ensure the healthy growth of the cape gooseberry plants.
Although cape gooseberries are consumed in a variety of forms, raw or unripe fruits of the plant are said to be poisonous and, if consumed, may result in serious adverse effects. It is said that the plant has been responsible for several ailments and cattle deaths in Australia, where it is cultivated extensively.
The cape gooseberry fruit ripens at different times of the year depending on the weather conditions of the place where the plant is cultivated. However, it has been seen that the fruits grow and mature best during the cooler weather. The fruits of the cape gooseberry are never plucked from the plant, but collected when they mature and fall on the ground. However, all fallen fruits of the cape gooseberry plants are not always in the same stage of maturity and, hence, those that are not fully ripened or mature needs to be held for some time till they ripe completely. Harvesting the cape gooseberry fruits requires some experience or expertise as the individual engaged in the process should have adequate knowledge as to which fruit is completely mature and which is not. Fruits that are completely mature and prepared well may be preserved for quite a few months.
The ripe cape gooseberry fruits may be eaten fresh as they are collected or may be used in a number of different ways. The fresh fruits have an exceptional flavour and this makes it a favourite element in fruit salads, fruit cocktails as well as in cooked dishes. When cape gooseberries are cooked with ginger or apples it makes an incredibly unique dessert. The fruits stewed with honey also make an exclusive and mouth watering dessert. When the ripened cape gooseberry fruits are doused in chocolate or other similar glazes or perforated and rolled in sugar, they make gorgeous and delicious sweets. The rich content of pectin in cape gooseberry fruits makes them an ideal preserve and jam products that is often used for topping desserts. One may even dry the fruits to preserve and consume them as delicious 'raisins' (similar to dried grapes).